NC Promise is among the state's most under-noticed initiatives. The program, which lowers tuition at three public universities, is among higher education's most ambitious experiments nationally in college affordability.

The nearly $60 million annual investment lowers tuition at three UNC System institutions to just $500 a semester for in-state students and $2,500 for out-of-state-students. Fees remain extra.

This week, the legislature is expected to release its conference budget. It will include, according to three sources, an additional $11.5 million annual commitment to expand the NC Promise tuition plan to a fourth school: Fayetteville State University.

When NC Promise was first passed in 2016, two HBCUs, Fayetteville State University and Winston-Salem State University, opted out of the program in a very public fight.

They contended the program could freeze revenue for the schools and devalue the institution's brand. Under the program, the state pays the institution the difference between what students would have paid and the new sticker price; some worried that commitment would fade and funding would go with it.

Those concerns have not come true. NC Promise has been a remarkable success story, helping drive significant success at its three schools: Elizabeth City State University, Western Carolina University, and UNC Pembroke. Now there appears to be a fourth.

There are, of course, political considerations involving the proposed budget item at Fayetteville State University. Two of the four Democratic senators who voted for the Senate's original budget proposal in July are from Cumberland County, home of FSU. And Darrell Allison, the new chancellor of the university, is well connected politically. 

But for education policy, this is a big deal. It's a major expansion of a program without any peer nationally.

For FSU's 5,600 undergraduate students, the impact is more immediate still: lower tuition for the same education. The expansion would take effect next fiscal year. 

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It's been a busy month for The Assembly in higher education news.

You can read both of our latest pieces, on UNC System President Peter Hans, and on Duke University's emblematic troubles with academic/athletic balancing:

"UNC's Mild-Mannered Change Agent"

After a quiet, decades-long rise to power, Peter Hans is atop the UNC System. He brings strong personal and political skills, but is short on executive experience. Can a great conciliator keep his restive factions at bay and shepherd the institution through its next big transformation?

"Duke University and the Troubles of College Sports"

A veteran professor enjoys Cameron craziness as much as any Blue Devils fan, but says big-time college sports dominate what are supposed to be nonprofit academic institutions. Even at Duke, which considers itself a shining star, there’s academic corner-cutting, rampant commercialization, and some unsettling racial dynamics.

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Last Sunday, The Assembly dived into the politics of police reform in Durham. It was a interview-filled deep exploration and like any long-form piece, a lot was left on the cutting room floor.

Over the last few days, reporter Jeffrey Billman has published a handful of interview transcripts with various Durham power players, to give more insight and background to the issue. 

If you're interested in the story, or the specifics of Durham politics, it's worth your time. You have to scroll a little on each link: here, here, and here

And finally - one more link for your Sunday. NC Policy Watch's Lisa Sorg explores the legal fight between residents in Alamance County's Snow Camp and a troubled mining company -- and the lax regulations that make it all possible. 

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This short write-up is drawn from The Assembly's Sunday newsletter. Kyle Villemain is The Assembly's editor-in-chief.